🧠Mind Over Matter

May 30, 2020 - 7 min read 🍵🍵🍵🍵

Tags: life

During my programming journey, I ran into several problems. One of them was my health issue and second was my sleep hygiene. I told my doctor I had problems sleeping; I would wake up in the middle of the night and fall asleep after minutes later. No matter how many hours I slept at night, I would wake up super tired and unrested.

I ended up having a sleep study done last year. I slept in a clinic overnight with a bunch of wires glued to my head and entire body hoping for some results that can be fixed medically. I was desperate in figuring out a solution.

At the same time, I had also been taking antibiotics and opioids to get my health back on track after multiple surgeries. I had been dealing with multiple problems stacked on top of each other and I had wondered if I suffered from sleep apnea without realizing.

I was hoping for a prescription that will allow me to purchase a sleep machine to solve my sleeping problems. I heard that many sleep clinics give them out like candy, as so my friends say and many users of sleep apnea machines rave about how awesome they are.

Anxiously, while I was waiting for my results, I Google’d sleep apnea machines and read about them. Also, a lot of my co-workers told me their sleep apnea machines solved their sleeping issues and would cause them to sleep instantly and wake up feeling like a million bucks.

Likewise, a patient waiting to be tucked in for another sleep study at the clinic told me he was surprised to see a young fellow in for a study and said that sleep apnea machines are meant for bigger people like himself.

I was confused and he told me that larger folks tend to snore more and thus, have their airways blocked which causes them to wake up at night. At the same time he also raved about how his machine gave him the best sleep he had in years. Thus, adding to excitement of finally getting a machine to help me sleep.

I thought it would be super cool to have full blanket coverage over my head while I slept with a tube in my nose and machine helping me breathe externally. My girlfriend was not amused at the idea.

After the results came in, my sleep medicine specialist looked at my graph and simply told me that I had a common problem he’d seen in many young patients, it was simply just “stress”. He told me that I should try taking 5mg of melatonin at night to see if that helped and report back to him after 6 months of taking it.

Bummer! I didn’t get my sleep machine, but now I’m able to confirm its not sleep apnea. At the time, I didn’t feel stressed, but I decided to step back and reflect on what I was going through.

Leaving my steady full-time job for something unknown and having a health crisis that left me recovering for 4 months really did put a dent in my plans and timeline. Perhaps this fear of the unknown led me to having poor sleep and thus increased my stress levels which in turn caused more restless sleep and the cycle never stops.

I mentioned that I didn’t feel stressed, but my body was going through physical stress. Stress can take many different forms and maybe when I slept, my brain had an internal stressor that it couldn’t get rid of, causing me to toss and turn and keeping me unrested. Too many unknowns for it to handle and I had no good system to unwind.

So, I took it one step at a time, controlling what I could. I took my melatonin as directed by my doctor and felt drowsy every night. It didn’t seem to help because I woke up with a melatonin hangover which led me to feeling groggy the whole day.

The next step I took was applying the techniques for stress management in a book I read called The Power of Full Engagement. There were only 2 main things I took from the book in the stress management section:

  1. Meditation - this helps calms the mind, allows you to let your mind rant and unwind while you focus on your breath which reduces stress
  2. Running - generates dopamine and tires out my energy to sleep better and help build more energy in the long run

Now that I started implementing my de-stressing techniques, I started focus on my environment and help turn it in my favour when it came to study time.

Increasing focus and concentration

As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, your environment impacts your behaviour.

For the past year, I have been studying in my bedroom because I live in a small townhouse. There were no extra rooms to add another desk space to study and I was not willing spend a large chunk of my energy moving all the junk in the basement until I’ve exhausted all my options.

There were a couple of problems that I encountered into while studying in my bedroom, it basically made me associate my bedroom with:

  1. Sleeping
  2. Relaxing
  3. Leisure
  4. Studying

Mixing the 4 things above probably added more stress and causing sleep issues which resulted in the loss of concentration and focus. Not being able to distinctively differentiate activities became a problem.

However, there were a couple of tricks that really helped me stay focused and unfortunately, this might require some purchases, but in my opinion, they were well worth their investment.

  1. Associating a different device for studying
  • Every time I would study or do work, I would only use my laptop. Doing this allows me to associate a physical object to studying. I had a hard time decoupling my main PC to studying simply because I’ve always played games on it. I initially invested in a very nice laptop before I had left work in anticipation for studying.
  1. Using noise cancelling headphones
  • Having noise cancelling headphones while you are working not only drowns external noise but help you feel like you are in a completely different place. It’s hard to explain but once you have noise cancelling headphones, it helps you zone into the work much easier (for me at least).
  1. Controlling room ambience with Hue light bulbs
  • I splurged last year on a pair of smart lights during boxing day. I would make my room cool white for studying and then warm white for relaxing and leisure time. Eventually I’d turn them red for sleep time and reading.
  • This not only tricked my brain into thinking I was in a different room, but the whole mood lighting really effected how I studied and unwind.

Although these were very minor improvements, I found them to help tremendously in keeping me focused and concentrated.

I made sure I meditated every day for 5 minutes and ran twice a week to de-stress and build up my energy levels. It has been almost my entire journey now that I am able to reflect back on what I have done and what I’ve improved. I’m glad to say that self-reflection has helped me pinpoint the issues and defaulted on action to help solve them.

I know that health is wealth. Making sure you are mentally and physically healthy is the key to being productive. Your body houses your soul, and you want to make sure it is well oiled and maintained!


A blog by Kien